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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Murder Up My Sleeve

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (368)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 254: PS3513 .A6322 M87 1946
Contributor: R. Brandt


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: San Francisco, California Date of Publication: 1946  |  Original Date: 1937 Setting: urban; Chinatown Motives: blackmail, adultery, murder

Plot Summary

Jacob Mandra, notorious bail-bond broker, blackmailer, and ladies' man, has been killed by a steel-tipped dart from a Chinese sleeve gun. The district attorney pulls Terry Clane in for questioning. Clane, formerly a lawyer and currently a "mysterious adventurer," has recently returned from an extended stay in China where he studied at a Chinese monastery and collected a large number of Chinese curios, including a sleeve gun. Mandra had written to Clane in China, asking Terry to bring him a sleeve gun. Clane is also friendly with the artistic Renton sisters, Alma and Cynthia. Cynthia was one of the last to see Mandra alive and, in fact, discovered his body shortly after he was murdered -- she had been asleep in the next room at the time, making her a prime suspect. The police start rounding up all of Clane's acquaintances in an attempt to learn more about him. During the course of their investigation, they discover that Clane's sleeve gun is missing. It eventually turns up in the D.A.'s office -- in the seat Terry had been sitting in during his questioning. In order to keep himself and his friends out of jail, Clane begins an investigation of his own. He discovers a blackmail racket, engineered by Mandra, where innocent people are framed for hit-and-run drunk driving accidents. He also discovers Mandra's secret widow, Juanita, an exotic dancer who has grown very tired of his infidelities.

Major Characters

Terrance Clane "Terry," aka "Owl" and "First Born", adult male, dark wavy hair, smooth olive complexion, blue eyes, 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighs 185 pounds, lawyer and "adventurer"

Juanita Mandra adult female, part Spanish or Mexican, dusky skin, black hair, exotic dancer and widow of victim

Jacob Mandra adult male, vaguely "Oriental," bail-bond broker, collector of exotic weaponry

Cynthia Renton adult female, hazel eyes, copper-colored hair, artist

Alma Renton adult female, delicate facial features, blonde hair, grey eyes, artist

Sou Ha "Embroidered Halo," adult female, Chinese, black eyes, long tapering fingers

Yat T'oy "Little One," adult male, Chinese, 5 feet tall, wrinkled parchment-like skin, servant to Terry Clane

James Malloy adult male, inspector, homicide squad, San Francisco police department

George Levering adult male, sunburned skin, pale eyes, social idler, polo player, gambler


sleeve gun - a Chinese weapon that consists of a nine-inch long hollow bamboo tube containing a powerful spring and a catch which is released by pressure to fire a metal-tipped dart; it can be concealed up the sleeve of the person using the gun.

Level of Violence

mostly implicit; the chief violent act is the murder of Mandra. However, it has already taken place before the story begins. The other violent incidents are the hit-and-run "accidents" which turn out to be phony (the "victim" is really an acrobat who only pretends to be hit by the car).


like the violence, the sexuality in this novel is mostly implied. However, many of Terry's motivations are based on his sex drives: he leaves for China because he is attracted to Alma Renton, who is married to his best friend; and he leaves the Chinese monastery because of a "little Russian girl" who "interfered" with his studies. Terry is obviously still attracted to Alma -- her husband has since died -- as well as her sister Cynthia, who flirts shamelessly with him. There is also a mutual attraction between Terry and Sou Ha. Juanita kills her husband because she thinks he is having an affair with Cynthia. He's not, although he has had many others.

Gender Roles

airly traditional. The female characters are the stronger characters, generally. Alma Renton is a professional artist who has put her career ahead of her personal life and her sister Cynthia is pretty forward in her flirtation with Terry. Juanita takes matters into her own hands when she thinks her husband is cheating on her (it is fairly clear at the end of the novel that she will be acquitted). All of the weak moral characters are male. Jacob Mandra is a blackmailer; all of his cohorts in crime are male. George Levering is a playboy and a gambler who accepts frequent "loans" from Alma. He is also the one who steals the sleeve gun from Terry.


the Chinese characters, chiefly Yat T'oy, Sou Ha and Chu Kee (Sou Ha's father) are treated respectfully. Terry Clane is sympathetic toward Chinese culture and is fluent in Cantonese. The Chinese are portrayed as wise, loyal and honorable. There are even romantic undertones in Terry's relationship with Sou Ha -- although he ends up with Cynthia. Some of the other characters -- primarily Inspector Malloy -- use racial epithets such as "Chink" or "Chinee" when referring to a Chinese person.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

lcohol: the blackmail racket run by Mandra is based on a presumption that many people drive after having a few drinks. Given the number of victims he works it on, he is right. Even though they are not actually drunk, they have had enough alcohol to drink to doubt their own judgment, and thus fall prey to his scheme. Drugs: Cynthia is slipped a drugged Tom Collins by Yat T'oy -- on Terry's instruction -- so that Terry can snoop around on her behalf without having her underfoot.

Law Enforcement

the San Francisco police homicide squad, coordinated through the district attorney's office, investigates Mandra's murder. The police are portrayed as capable and resourceful. However, it is Terry's superior concentration ability (learned in the Chinese monastery) that enables him to deduce the identity of the real murderer.

Subject Headings

California - San Francisco/ Adultery/ Blackmail/ Murder